The Energy Industry should be Regulated to Benefit Texans

Published 2:42 am Saturday, September 15, 2018

By Roman McAllen

 We hear nearly every day how Texas is leading the world in oil and gas development.  Politicians run on the fact that they made this great Texas miracle happen.  Oil and gas in Texas is the result of something that happened millions of years ago.  Our burn rate on this good fortune is high; for a few folks the times are extraordinarily good, but as a citizen of the Great State of Texas, I am deeply concerned.  No one can dispute all of the good the oil and gas industry and its associated enterprises have brought to Texas.  That said, there is a problem.  The Oil and Gas industry in Texas is regulated by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC).

The current commission prides itself on not accepting the science on climate change.  In its unabashed advocacy for the non-renewable extraction industries, the commission sanctions efforts to quash local control and blindly cheers the industry.  It’s lax regulatory oversight, combined with new EPA appointments of climate change deniers and rollbacks of policies aimed to limit pollution, combine to make a dangerous situation for future Texans and ourselves.


The RRC name is the first layer of industry protection in Texas.  My opponent’s spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year that the name of the RRC is historical and “has a lot of meaning across the world.”  It may be known around the world in her circle, consisting only of oil company executives and billionaire tycoons, but folks that I have met all around the great State of Texas do not know what it does.  This is deceptive.  Texans should know they are supposed to have an advocate when it comes to how non-renewable resources are extracted from our land.


Similarly, have you ever heard of the severance tax?  Unless you are in the small percentage of Texans with mineral rights to oil and gas-laden land, you probably have never heard of it.  This tax, set by the Texas legislature, is supposed to be paid to the State for every gallon of oil and every cubic foot of natural gas (non-renewable resources) extracted from Texas land.  Part of the severance tax goes to fund public schools.  The rates of these taxes have not been adjusted since 1951 and outdated exemptions are allowing companies to avoid the tax.  Taxes, exemptions and fees should be adjusted to help our underfunded education system.  Further, they should be adjusted to reflect the true cost to the Texas environment, namely our water.  A change of $7 per barrel up or down in a week is a frequent occurrence, and has a greater impact on drilling viability than would adjusting the severance tax rate upward slightly.  Kind, compassionate, landowners tell me the severance tax needs to be raised.  As an elected official, I would lead and advocate for changes.


People are shocked when they hear how much water is used to frack wells.  According to a recent Duke University study, in 2016 the average well fracked in the Permian basin used over 11,000,000 million gallons of water.  According to the EPA, the average American family uses 109,500 gallons of water a year.  The average well frack job, in just two to three days, uses the equivalent of 100 years of one family’s water usage.  Between 2005 and 2016, 55,000 wells were fracked in Texas.  Some of this water is brackish (salty and undrinkable) or recycled and much of it is from freshwater aquifers or municipal drinking water sources.  While much of the freshwater is lost to the wells, about half the water is returned to the surface as ‘produced water’, filled with chemical and minerals that make it an environmental hazard.  This water is usually sent to one of the over 7,000 disposal wells which dot the state of Texas to be injected thousands of feet into the earth.  George P. Mitchell’s head engineer during the breakthroughs that lead to the current pandemic of fracking said that it is impossible that the water in injection wells will not one-day influence our fresh water supply.


Texas’ most valuable resource is not oil or gas, it is Texans.  Texas educates the industry workforce and their children through our public schools.  Texas should have the best schools in the nation and Texas should ensure air and water quality for all Texans for generations to come through proper regulation.  This cannot happen when those regulating and passing legislation fail to grasp climate change, nor when their devotion to those who paid to elect them, causes them to prioritize short term profit and wealth compounding for the 1% over the health, safety and education of the other 99%.  This is not sustainable.


Roman McAllen, Assoc. AIA, AICP, CNU-A is Democratic Nominee for the Railroad Commission of Texas. He can be reached at